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Experts Identify School Supplies With Toxic Chemicals & Offer Non-Toxic Alternatives

With summer winding down, also comes the ritual shopping for back-to-school supplies, which can be a very tricky proposition in terms for buying things that both your kids will like and also be safe for them to use.

As we get more conscious about the potentially harmful chemicals that are in traditional school supplies, we naturally want to find safer non-toxic alternatives.

Most traditional school supplies are made containing polyvinyl chloride, more commonly known as PVC, which is a plastic material that can range from very rigid (used in manufacturing things including pipes, rain gutters, water bottles, etc.) to softer materials with the addition plasticizers (such as phthalates) and stabilizers (including lead and cadmium) to make things like lunchboxes, backpacks, binders, organizers, paper clips, and art supplies.

While inexpensive and durable, PVCs do have their concerns, especially when it comes to health. For example, when used as part of home things like flooring, carpet backing, blinds, and shower curtains, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (IACHI) warns of the potential of leaching and the release of dangerous chemicals including:

  • Hydrogen chloride – a corrosive and highly toxic chemical that can irritate the skin, and in gas form can irritate and in severe cases damage the respiratory system.
  • Dioxin – a carcinogen by-product of industrial processes that can persist in the environment for a long time. The IACHI says that PVC is the largest contributor of the world’s dioxin burden.

The IACHI adds that “PVC has also been blamed for emitting chemical softeners called phthalates (in vinyl flooring), lead additives (in blinds), and toxic glues. For instance, one study of PVC shower curtains found that they released phthalates capable of causing nausea and damage to the liver and reproductive system.”

In addition, laboratory testing commissioned by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) and the Empire State Consumer Project in 2012 uncovered “high levels of phthalates in common school supplies including backpacks, lunchboxes, and 3-ring binders.”

The CHEJ went on to say that over 90 percent of all phthalates are used to soften vinyl products and the levels of phthalates found in children’s school supplies would be illegal if these products were toys.

The CHEJ also complained that while Congress has banned phthalates in children’s toys, it has yet to ban their use in PVC back-to-school products.

The first step in avoiding PVC containing products is to know how to identify them. One way to identify a PVC product is to look for the number “3” or the letter “V” underneath the universal recycling symbol.

Another identifier according to the CHEJ is that “soft flexible plastic products that are made with PVC often have a distinct odor, such as vinyl shower curtains.” The group also recommends that if you suspect that a product is made of PVC, contact the manufacturer and ask them directly about the material.

Today, there are a lot of safe, cost-effective alternatives to PVC school supplies, and the CHEJ has a great tool called the Back- To-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies.

The guide includes an extensive chart that’s very easy to read and contains categories of information on PVC-free school supplies including: binders, notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, markers, paper clips, report covers, planners, art supplies, lunch boxes, water bottles, and backpacks.

The guide’s chart includes the school supplies, the manufacturers, descriptions of the products, and where the products can be found, including online and through common retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, Staples, Office Max, and Home Depot.

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